Friday March 5, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (Ezekiel 18:21-18) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:20-26)
In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel tells us that if the virtuous man turns away from his virtuous ways to commit iniquity, he will die in his sin; whereas if the person who does evil turns away from his evil ways to do what is right and just, then that person will live. Of course, the Lord is talking here not just about living or dying in the natural and physical sense, but rather living and dying as far as eternity goes. If we die in the state of mortal sin, we cannot go to heaven; and if we die in the state of grace, then we will go to heaven. It is just that simple.
Yet at the same time, there is more to the story, as the Lord makes very clear in the Gospel reading today. He tells us that we have to be willing to forgive people. It is not necessarily that all of our anger and all of our unforgiveness is a mortal sin. Some of it, however, being venial sin, is still going to be there; and if we die in that kind of state we are going to have to deal with it. He tells us, for instance, “You will be thrown into prison and you will not be released until you’ve paid the last penny,” which means Purgatory. I just simply challenge you to look into your heart and think about anybody with whom you are angry, anyone whom you are refusing to forgive. Now ask yourself, “Is it worth going to Purgatory for that person? Is it worth going to Purgatory so I can stomp my foot and say, ‘I have a right to be angry!’ when you are going to have to look at the Lord and He is going to say, ‘What right did you have to be angry? We have a place where you’re going to have to work out that anger; instead of being able to enter into heaven, you’re going to have to be there for a while.’” It is not worth it. Why would we say, “I’ll chance it and sit in Purgatory for years because of this person,” rather than going to heaven? Who would think that is worth it?
You see, what happens is we wind up trying to justify our anger, and we have got 101 rationalizations as to why it is okay for us to be angry. It does not do us one ounce of good to be angry, nor does it do any harm to the other person, so why be angry? It keeps us from growing in virtue, it is going to increase the torment of Purgatory for us, and it will do us no good at all in this life or in the next. Now it may be that somebody has done something horribly wrong to you, and the devil is the one who is going to be right there saying, “But look at what they did. You have every reason to be angry! After all, consider what this person did to you. Why should you not be angry?” Sadly, many psychiatrists these days would tell you the same thing. The Lord, on the other hand, is going to look at you and say, “Yes, the person did this and it was completely wrong. But you know what? So is your anger completely wrong,” because the Lord told us we have to forgive. We pray for that every time we pray the Our Father; remember, we pray that we will be forgiven only to the degree that we are willing to forgive. To forgive does not mean to say that it was all right; to forgive means “I’m not going to drag it around anymore. I’m going to let go of it.”
All of our unforgiveness and all of our anger, we drag around with us in this world and we are going to have to drag it up to judgment if we do not let go of it. We are going to have to get rid of it one way or the other. It makes us miserable in this life and it will make us sit in Purgatory for a lot longer – if we get that far – or we can let go of it. We can be at peace in this life and we can avoid a lot of time in Purgatory. So it is a win-win situation to let go of it. It is Satan who is telling us that we should be angry. It is Satan who is telling us that we have that right, that we are justified in it. Why? It accomplishes nothing for us to be angry, for us to refuse to forgive. But what it does do is show that we are not living our Christian life because remember that Jesus told us that would be one of the signs of living the way that He does. He said that our heavenly Father allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust, and the sun to shine on the good and the bad. He said, “If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you?” He is telling us that we are called to a higher degree. If we are angry and we say, “You fool!” and if we hold people in contempt, He said that we risk the fires of Gehenna. And He tells us then that we should leave our gift at the altar and go and be reconciled.
So I challenge you right now: If there is anyone against whom you are holding anger in your heart, as we offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, before you receive Communion today, put that up on the paten, put that anger, put that unforgiveness there with Jesus’ sacrifice. Offer the hurt and the pain and whatever anger is there, offer that to our heavenly Father. Forgive the person and let go so that both of you can be free. You will be able to live a virtuous life and you will not die with your anger, you will not die with your unforgiveness; but rather you will have the joy in this life and you will have a greater eternity, a higher place in heaven forever. And you will get there a lot more quickly because in this world it brings merit to be able to act with virtue – in Purgatory, it does not. Again, it is all in our favor to do what we should do anyway. Let go of the anger and live.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.